Vets in the UK are being urged to increase vigilance after it was confirmed virulent African swine fever (ASF) has been detected in wild boar in Belgium close to the borders with France and Luxembourg.
The discovery in the south-eastern part of the country has alarmed experts as it constitutes a large jump westwards from where ASF has been circulating within the eastern EU member countries since 2014.
No obvious transmission method has been proved, but many experts believe a human factor may be at play.
A preliminary outbreak assessment from the APHA International Disease Monitoring team for the first detection of ASF in Belgium in wild boar stated: “This is clearly a very significant development in the westward spread of ASF in EU Member States, in which ASF was first detected in the eastern EU in January 2014.
“Given the large geographic distance between these first Belgian wild boar ASF cases, and other confirmed cases of ASF in wild boar further east, it is most likely infection has been introduced by movement of fomites or infected meat products from ASF-infected areas – in other words, human mediated – however, investigations are in progress.”
David Burch, a European consultant on pig medicine and former president of the Pig Veterinary Society, described the threat towards the UK through human intervention as “critical”.
He said: “No wild pig is going to swim across the Channel, so that’s an easy one. However, around 40% of workers on our pig farms here in the UK are from eastern Europe, and that’s where the problem is.
“The danger is they come over with uncooked sausages or cured meats that may have been contaminated and innocently take them on farm.
“That’s our weakest link, if you like. The human factor is critical.”
A case of ASF has never existed in the UK, and Defra and the APHA are encouraging farmers to ramp up biosecurity, and for vets to be extra vigilant and report any suspected cases of ASF immediately.
Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said: “We would urge all vets to remain vigilant, be alert for signs of the disease and spread the word to pig keeper clients, however large or small they may be, to do all they can to prevent the disease getting in.”